Unit 3: Indicators of Secularization

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a) Decline in Institutional Religion:

Where the previously accepted beliefs, rituals and practices lose their symbolic significance. This is reflected in a decline in religious participation.

- Quantitative: statistics- gathering evidence i.e. the amount of people being baptised.

Church attendance:

- Earliest 'Census of Religious Worship' in England and Wales in 1851 found: 40% of the adult population attended church -> 1950: 20% -> 2005: 6.3% -> 2015: 4.7%

- While attendance at special Christian ceremonies has also declined, they remain more popular than weekly church attendance. 1900: 65% -> 2005: 41%

- 1971: 3/5s of weddings were in church -> 2006: the proportion was only a 1/3.

- Sunday school attendance has also declines with only a tiny proportion of children now attending.

Church membership:

- The English Church Census (2006) shows that membership of large religious organizations such as the Church of England and the Catholic Church have declines, however membership of smaller organizations (and non-Christian faiths) have remained more stable or in some cases grown.

- Nevertheless, the growth of the smaller Christian ones has not compensated for the overall declining trend.

Religious beliefs:

- More people claim they hold Christian beliefs than actually belong to or attend a church but this belief is declining.

- Gill et al reviewed around 100 surveys on religious belief from 1939-1996. They show a significant decline in belief in a personal god, in Jesus the son of God and in traditional teachings about the afterlife and the Bible.

These figures have been used by many sociologists.


1) Church attendance and membership figures can be questioned in terms of their validity and reliability:

- Statistics could be distorted by those who produce them. i.e. Catholic figures are sometimes distorted to reduce fees paid to central church authorities, whereas Anglican figures are often overestimated to reduce the risk of closure for churches with a small congregation.

- Different organizations use different criteria to calculate membership. i.e. the Catholic Church and the Church of England count the number of people who have been baptized and confirmed, the Church of Wales count those who attend Easter communion.

- Martin argues that many theories of secularization are based on an unrealistic notion of a golden age of religious commitment. The higher levels of church attendance associated with Victorian England were influences by non-religious factors and social and cultural expectations of the day.

2) The decline in church attendance can be interpreted in different ways:

- Critics suggest quanitifying religiosity reflects positivistic sociology. Whether it is possible to equate a decline in religious practice and worship with a decline in religious belief is debatable.

- Davie found that despite declining church attendence 62% of people believe in God. Therefore statistics on religious participation may be only tenuously linked to religiosity.

- Glasner argues that sociologists such as Wilson are influenced by a traditional view of religion as church orientated.

- According to Bellah, a decline in institutional religion cannot be taken as indicative of a decline in…


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